Saturday, March 10, 2012
It was short, only 0.6 miles on asphalt. Once the road turned to chip-sealed I could only keep going another 100 feet or so comfortably. The weather was over 60 degrees so I was definitely not cold. My running felt no different to me than running in my Vibram Five Fingers or any other minimalist shoes but that does not mean that it wasn't different. I think I will continue to do this and build up my distance a little each time. Today my total running time was only about 20 minutes, although I did a fair amount of walking as well. It seems that I'm a little more tired these last few days as my body is switching back to ketosis.
Until now I had mostly been running in minimalist shoes and I used these since my first steps towards becoming a runner 2 years ago, the couch to 5 K program.
The definition of minimalist shoe to me is anything that has a completely flexible sole that will bend easily in both directions, has no heel or arch support, has no or almost no cushioning and lots of room for toes to spread out. When I first started minimalist running was still not very common. I started a thread about it on another well-known exercise forum and there were only 2-3 people who were taking me seriously. None of our local sports and outdoor equipment stores carried any minimalist running shoes. Things have changed a great deal since then. There are hundreds of different models and brands of minimalist shoes for all types of running, walking and other sports, including boots and dress shoes. Most shoe and sports equipment stores have at least a few models and their sales people have at least a vague idea what minimalist means. By the way, there is no "barefoot" shoe. Barefoot means the absence of shoes (in spite of what some shoe manufacturers would like us to believe through naming their product).
So why does it matter? Well, people who have been running in traditional running shoes with lots of padding and support are used to running with very little ground feel. Their running technique is affected by their choice of shoes. When switching away from traditional running shoes people have to learn a very different style of running. It's almost better to consider this a different sport, sort of like the difference between tennis and table tennis. There are different muscles working, many of them in the feet and ankles, and at a different intensity. Part of learning the correct form is to have the best ground feel possible, something that can not be done as easily in any kind of shoe, even the thinnest, most flexible kind. Depending on what surface you run on, even the very thin cushioning of a minimalist shoe could still make heel striking possible and that needs to be avoided because that is what causes many running injuries and wear and tear on joints but also causes a braking action with every step.
Once the running technique is good putting on minimalist shoes won't do any damage any more. Still, I like the idea of an occasional tune-up to test my running form just like people who ride horses occasionally ride without stirrups and/or bareback to test how balanced and relaxed their seat is. In running, like in riding, balance is very important. When we are balanced we need less muscle strength for efficient forward movement. Learning to move from our center (both physically and emotionally) helps us to engage our core muscles but without rigidity, instead it is a flexible strength. When I talk about core muscles I am not just talking about abs but about all the muscles that enable us to lengthen through our spine. At the same time our limbs swing naturally and relaxed and in rhythm. The amazing thing is that this way of moving does not all have to be learned, although this is possible (Chi running is the best example), but just taking our shoes off and looking ahead where we are going while running at a very easy and relaxed pace will give the most benefit. This does assume running on a firm surface because on grass or soft dirt it is possible to heel strike and over stride even when barefoot.
If you don't currently suffer from running injuries (they should be allowed to heal first) and want to reduce the chance of developing any and save your joints you may want to give barefoot or minimalist running a try. It's a great way of moving, especially for people who still have a couple of pounds to lose but want to go faster than walking.